23 March 2021
Today, March 23, marks the fifth anniversary of the tragic death of dedicated remote area nurse Gayle Woodford who was brutally raped and murdered in Outback South Australia.
In 2011 Gayle took a role working for the Nganampa Health Council on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. She and her husband Keith settled in the small Fregon community, just 200km south of the Northern Territory\SA border.
At around 9.30pm on March 23, 2016, Gayle returned home to finish her on-call shift after her last consultation at the nearby clinic.
“It was just like any other normal Wednesday. Gayle was beside me reading in bed,” said Keith Woodford. It was the last time Keith would see his wife alive.
He woke the next morning to find Gayle missing and her clinic ambulance no longer parked outside their high-security home.
After a two-day search, Gayle’s body was recovered in nearby scrubland and life for the Woodford family would never be the same.
Their much-loved wife, mother and sister had been viciously attacked and murdered after being lured out of the house by convicted sex offender Dudley Davey, who had claimed that his grandmother needed medical assistance.
In June, 2017, Davey, who had a long history of violence and sexual assault against women, was sentenced to life in prison for Gayle’s murder, with a non-parole period of 32 years. The shocking case prompted safety reform laws for nurses working in remote communities.
The circumstances surrounding Gayle’s death sparked what would become a three-year crusade by the family for laws to ban single-nurse postings in remote areas - a cause also championed by the ANMF (SA Branch).
Gayle’s Law – which protects health care professionals working in remote areas from attending after-hours emergency callouts alone – finally became fully operational after it was passed by the State Government in November 2019.
“No one deserves to go through what our family has endured. We were determined to ensure all remote area nurses could go to work safely and feel secure in their workplace,” Keith Woodford said at the time.
“We now have a new level of safety here in South Australia. We are very proud. Gayle would be so proud.”
The challenge now is for all state and territories to adopt similar laws protecting remote area medics within their jurisdictions.
“Our next move is to push for Gayle’s Law to go national, because we won’t stop until every nurse in Australia is protected from having to attend after-hours call-outs alone,” Keith said.
Diploma of Nursing students at the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Education Centre, a service of the ANMF (SA Branch), participated in a photo shoot in memory of Gayle, sporting #GONATIONAL signs calling for Gayle’s Law to be implemented throughout Australia.
The South Australian Department of Health and Wellbeing has also recently commissioned a review of Gayle’s Law to establish:
- whether it has been implemented as intended; and
- the impact that the Act and Regulations have had on health services, the safety of health practitioners and persons providing health services, and communities in the remote areas of South Australia.
The review will also consider whether any amendments to the Act or Regulations would improve their operation.
Members can participate in this voluntary and anonymous survey to provide information relevant to the review.
Take the survey, which ends March 30:
Health Worker Survey Gayle's law